Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Lafayette-Holy Cross: a midweek notebook.

Some things to think about as Lafayette and  Holy Cross get set to open the Patriot League season at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday in Fisher Stadium.

PETER PUJALS – Will the talented senior quarterback be playing on Saturday for Holy Cross after being hurt against Dartmouth?  Coach Tom Gilmore was non-committal on Tuesday but referred to Pujals’ injury as “lower leg.” Pujals threw for 358 yards and six TDs last year against Lafayette; he threw for just 135, but also ran for 115 in 2014, and he threw for 222 and ran for 55 as a freshman. He has thrown for 1,110 yards and 10 touchdowns this year and been intercepted five times in 175 throws. He was on crutches with his one foot in a boot in the second half on Saturday and said after the game there was no break. He will assuredly not be 100 percent if he is able to play at all on Saturday.

Lafayette Coach Frank Tavani said his team is practicing as though Pujals will play. Then he said, “I hope he does play. Once he plays one play in this game, the fifth of the season, it negates the possibility of seeing him again next year. There’s always an upside. He’s an outstanding player, and he’s doing great things. You want to play people at their strength, but they put a severe spanking on us a year ago when we were as depleted as any team I’ve ever been around and everybody knew it. They knew it. We were down 42-0 and blitzes were still coming. That’s a little bit of interesting  motivation. We’ll be back. This is an entirely different game. We haven’t focused on last year.”

BRENDAN FLAHERTY – The Crusader receiver came to last year’s Lafayette game with 56 catches in six games and six TDs.  He torched the Leopards’ defense with seven catches for 95 yards and four touchdowns – including the last three of the game. This season, he had only 12 catches in the three games for 120 yards and one touchdown.   He didn’t play against Albany and he caught only one pass against New Hampshire – on the first play of the game. Can’t afford to lose sight of him on Saturday.

I asked Coach Tavani if playing against an obviously injured Pujals or a backup with a lot less experience, the Leopards' defensive strategy might including going with more blitzes than normal. He said, As our defensive staff does every week, you want to have your defensive package to defend what you're seeing on film and what they're giving you. You start zeroing in like, oh, he's not going to play so we're going to do this, even the backup we saw last year is a very athletic kid. He apparently has a hamstring issue or something and the third guy they list now, we don't have any idea. So we're not going to see a whole lot of different plays. They may try to run the ball a little bit more or, who knows. They have a very experienced offensive line so that's a real plus ... you don't necessarily have to have this great guy at the helm if your o- and d-line are solid and playing, then you have a running game and a defense that's getting it done. That puts a little less pressure on the guy, so I'm sure there'll be more emphasis on the o-line protecting whomever, if that's the case. We have to be prepared to go as if he's playing and that's the way we'll prepare."

JAKE WIECZOREK – He didn’t play against Lafayette last year but he’s the Crusaders’ leading receiver in 2016 with 31 catches for 314 yards and a touchdown. He hasn’t been the main man on kick returns this year, but he has been a big weapon in that area in the past.

THE ‘SADER RUNNING GAME – Gabe Guild ran for 142 yards against the Leopards as a freshman, and in his next two years, he was in the 70s. He’s out for the season after gbeing injured in the second game. Diquan Walker has led the attack with 235 yards and two touchdowns. He had only 17 last season against Lafayette. “Diquan has filled in nicely and Miles Alexander, a freshman, has been playing quite a bit more as well and shown promise in reps he’s gotten,” Gilmore said. If Pujals doesn’t play, the QB will most likely be sophomore Geoff Wade. He threw 10 passes as the No. 3 guy last week, completing six for 50 yards, and he also ran six times for a net of minus-2.

SOME INTERESTING STATS – Despite its record, Lafayette ranks 14th in the FCS on passing yards allowed (163.3).  That area would get a stern test this week with a healthy Pujals, but if he doesn’t play, the Leopards might have a real advantage here.  It would be nice, though, to have Tre Jordan, but it looks like that shoulder  injury from Saturday will preclude that. I guess T.J. Jones will be back there, so the Leopards do have a guy with experience ready to step in. The Leopards are 89th in rushing defense at 195.3 ypg. The Crusaders rank 61st in rushing offense (151.3). I think Lafayette can limit a Pujals-less Crusader attack under that average.  Holy Cross is 51st in passing yards allowed (212). Lafayette – and Drew Reed – knows how to exploit the Crusaders in that area. Check Reed’s 21-for-22 performance in 2013. He was brilliant that day in what was his first start – five touchdown passes.

COACHING UPHEAVAL – The first word about HC offensive coordinator Bill Samko’s departure came via social media. In his conference call to the Lehigh Valley media on Tuesday, coach Gilmore said, “It is true. The guy that coached our offensive line is no longer with the program. However, that’s more of a personnel  issue that I can’t comment on, but I can confirm he’s no longer with the program.” Asked about the problems losing a coach in midseason might cause, Gilmore said, “Anytime you have something like that, it presents challenges. We were fortunate enough to have people on staff, myself included, that have extensive backgrounds in that area so we were able to weather that storm and it hasn’t created the kind of situations it may in most situations.” If Pujals is the Crusaders’ biggest offensive weapon, it might be because he has a front line that has five seniors starting. The rushing game has averaged 142.2 yards per game and six touchdowns.

YASIR THOMAS – The freshmen has gotten into the action immediately as the main man on kickoff return, and on Saturday, he scored his first touchdown on a pass from Drew Reed in the third quarter. He was a punt returner in high school but he likes the move to the kickoff team with the Leopards. “Punt return is more nerve-wracking,” he said, “because you’re the only person down there. On kick return, you have a couple of options; it’s like an adrenalin rush. When you get a seam, you just shoot through it without slowing down, I like it, I think it’s fun.” The transition hasn’t been perfect; he’s averages 16.8 yards on 14 returns and has brought the ball out of the end zone a couple of times when he might have taken a knee and given the team the ball at the 25-yard line. When I said, “you don’t like to take a knee do you?”  Thomas said, “I like to get after it. I’m a very competitive person. That’s how I was raised. I told the return team, get me one block and I’ll get through. Let’s try to get to the 40 and give the offense good field position.”  Can he become as effective as Matt Smalley once was? Thomas has the speed. Time will tell.

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